Ohio lawmakers want to hand authority to casino regulators to crack down on operators of slot-machine-like “skill games” who illegally award cash prizes.
The Ohio House of Representatives voted 83-2 on Wednesday to empower the Casino Control Commission as the new cop on the skills-game beat.
After lawmakers effectively banished Internet sweepstakes cafes, some rebranded themselves as skill games and reopened, with state officials receiving complaints that many are illegal games of chance.
Skill-games operators are allowed to award gift cards for merchandise and gasoline valued at $10 or less on a single play, but some are handing out cash or higher-value prizes, officials say.
Under the bill, casino officials would license and regulate skill-game parlors. First offenses for operating without a license or violating other regulations would be considered first-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail.
“There is growing evidence that many skill-games businesses are violating Ohio law by operating games of chance and giving cash payouts,” said Matt Schuler, executive director of the Casino Control Commission.
“House Bill 491 gives the commission the tools needed to maintain the integrity of gaming in the state by creating consistent, uniform regulations regarding skill games.”
State officials estimate that hundreds of small skill-games parlors are operating in Ohio, with many attracting gamblers by ignoring state prize limits. Such games are required to rely on players’ “skills” rather than function like luck-of-the-draw slot machines.
The bill, which also makes other changes to improve regulation of the state’s casinos and “racinos,” now goes to the Senate for consideration. The legislation is part of Gov. John Kasich’s mid-term budget-corrections bill.
By Randy Ludlow - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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